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New South Korean partnership creates opportunities for PT students

Dr. Teresa Conner-Kerr, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professions at UNG, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on behalf of UNG with Youngsan University.

More than a decade ago, University of North Georgia (UNG) developed its Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Department. A little more than a year ago, the PT department added a new track for licensed and certified international students and non-doctoral licensed U.S. therapists.

The post-professional DPT degree is designed to help international students and non-doctoral professionals elevate their own practice abroad or address certain educational gaps required for licensure application in the United States.

Students at Youngsan University in Busan, South Korea, may take advantage of this opportunity with greater ease. Dr. Mary Ellen Oesterle, head of the Department of Physical Therapy (PT) at UNG, and Dr. Teresa Conner-Kerr, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Professions at UNG, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on behalf of UNG with Youngsan University.

The program will allow UNG and Youngsan students and faculty to learn at both universities. This action will put UNG's Doctorate of Physical Therapy on the forefront of the international stage.

"We are becoming the flag bearers by providing advanced, doctoral education that will elevate PT practice around the world," Conner-Kerr said.

Physical therapy is a rising career, with employment expected to grow 34 percent from 2014 to 2024, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook with the Bureau of Labor Statistics with the U.S. Department of Labor. Demand for PTs will increase because of aging baby boomers, who are staying active later in life.

Since north Georgia is an epicenter for retirement, UNG is playing an essential role in meeting the region’s rehabilitation needs, Conner-Kerr said. According to data from the Federation of State Board of Physical Therapy, UNG's Doctor of Physical Therapy has a 98 percent employment rate of graduates from 2009-14. Internal numbers show UNG graduating cohorts of 2017 and 2018 achieved a 100 percent and 93 percent first-time pass rate on the licensure exam, Conner-Kerr said.

Now, UNG is sharing its success with the international community, starting with the MOU with Youngsan.

"We are building this wonderful arrangement," Oesterle said. "And it is going to connect us to the international community."

The South Korean students and faculty are excited about the opportunity, because in South Korea and other foreign countries PT programs are taught at a bachelor's or master's level. It creates hardships for foreign physical therapists who want to practice in the United States.

"Physical therapy has shifted to doctoral-level degree," Conner-Kerr said. "Physical therapists coming to the U.S. must be doctorally prepared to apply for licensure.”

The same holds true for U.S. citizens who graduate from accredited physical therapy programs like UNG's PT program.

With the MOU, the Youngsan students can complete their bachelor's degree program in South Korea and apply to the doctoral program at UNG.

"It's creating a tremendous opportunity for the two programs to work in synergy," Conner-Kerr said. "Faculty are already planning joint research projects and teaching exchange. This creates a strong international pipeline for us."

The MOU between Youngsan and UNG stemmed from one of UNG's own faculty members from South Korea, Eunse Park, a faculty member in the physical therapy department, Oesterle said. Because of the MOU, Park and other UNG faculty can teach classes at Youngsan and vice versa.

For more information, visit the doctor of physical therapy program's website.

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